On Class Conflict in the Japanese Animation Industry

Over the past few years, the world has fallen in love with Japanese animation or “Anime”. Yet, many don’t know the working conditions in which this great art is created. The animators in the anime industry are being hyper-exploited for the production of anime. This isn’t a unique situation, but rather a problem of class conflict and class contradictions. As such, these problems have solutions that particularly impact the sources of the problem.

An overview of the general problem is as such, the anime industry is overworking and underpaying its animation employees to make massive profits. This is not a unique problem, for this is a mere expression of class contradictions and the capitalist material interest under capitalism.  

However, before the class analysis, the exact labor conditions within the anime industry must be established. “ The low wages and abysmal working conditions — hospitalization from overwork can be a badge of honor in Japan — have confounded the usual laws of the business world.” according to the New York Times

“Harsh working conditions prompted many people who dream of working as an animator to give up. The reason is because the pay is not enough to cover daily expenses. Sugawara explained that a work system like this often causes many young animators to stop pursuing their dream of making a career as an animator. In fact, about 90% of Japanese animators decide to give up their job after three years.” according to TFR news.

Put simply, class is not defined by income, it is defined by one’s relation to the means of production. The means of production are the things that create things. An example of this would be a factory oriented towards the production of bread. Within this context, the means of production is the place in which animation is produced. 

Wherever people work, is a place that holds the means of production. It doesn’t have to be a factory, and it could even be something like a Fortune 500 company. The point here is, that within capitalism, the capitalist privately owns the means of production.

 This means that the workers who work within the means of production don’t have a say in how production is run, and are instead bossed around and given tasks in exchange for a wage. This creates an inherently antagonistic class dynamic between the working class and the capitalist class. The lack of self determination in work environments is a key problem for both the Japanese animation industry and for workers all around the world

The important part here is that because there is this class power dynamic, there are inherently antagonistic opposing material interests. The capitalist, to make the highest amount of profit possible, must overwork, and underpay their workers as much as possible. 

However, as a worker, one wants to be paid as much as possible, and to work as little as one needs to. Think about any time you have been asked to stay to work longer than agreed upon. This feeling is the manifestation of class struggle .The anime industry can be seen through this class dynamic. The owners of the means of production are overworking and underpaying their employees, specifically because the consequence of this results in greater profits for the animation studio. 

Yet, because this is a class issue, this issue has a clear solution. If the problem is that workers are being over-exploited, then the workers must organize together in solidarity. This is to say that the working class of Japan must unionize for greater working conditions. 

Unionizing is a great solution for this problem because it allows for collective bargaining and the organization to do things like strikes. The workers within the animation industry could refuse to draw another cell of animation, and therefore halt the means in which profit is created.

This means that if the workers within the anime industry want greater pay, they must do what workers in the past and present have always done. The workers of Japan must unite for a greater tomorrow.

Finally, the solution to the Japanese labor problem isn’t unique. Workers all across Chicago have been unionizing and striking for a higher quality of life. Furthermore, the working class has many tools in its toolbox for the fight for higher working conditions. It is then up to the workers within each of their unique material conditions to choose which tools work best for them.


  • New York Times: Anime Is Booming. So Why Are Animators Living in Poverty? By Ben Dooley and Hikari Hida
  • TFR News: The sad life of Japanese animators behind the booming anime industry by Rahma Yulita